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By Kina Poon
Herman Cornejo and Misa Kuranaga rehearse Giselle at the 2010 VIDF. Photo by Erin Baiano, Courtesy VIDF.
The outdoor amphitheater of the Vail International Dance Festival, with the Rocky Mountains as backdrop, holds a special magic. “It’s even more beautiful than the photos,” says Pacific Northwest Ballet’s Carla Körbes, who will perform at Vail for the fifth time this year. While the high altitude and fluctuating temperatures are a physical challenge, she says, it’s worth the trade-off. “When the fresh air is blowing on you, you see the trees moving and the birds flying by, it makes you more connected to the world. You feel more present in your body.” Festival director Damian Woetzel echoes her sentiment. “A piece like Serenade is even more crazy beautiful with the moon coming up. Things you think you’ve seen a lot can look completely different on that stage.”
Audiences will be able to see works both familiar and fresh at the 2011 festival (July 31 to August 13). The programs range from the world premiere of NYCB Moves, a small group of dancers from all ranks of City Ballet, to an evening centered around dance on TV. The festival throws away the labels of “concert” and “commercial” dance to stretch the form as far as it will go.
Woetzel wants to shape communities of dance that are already thriving in new ways. Last spring, a video of Charles “Lil Buck” Riley performing a mash-up of the street style jookin’ and the Dying Swan solo went viral. Shot spontaneously on an iPhone by film director Spike Jonze, with cello royalty Yo-Yo Ma playing Saint-Saëns’ The Swan, the video picked up over a million views in a matter of weeks.
Behind the pairing, of course, was Woetzel, NYCB star-turned-impresario. After seeing a video of Lil Buck’s The Swan on Facebook (the solo was developed at the New Ballet Ensemble and School in Memphis), Woetzel set the collaboration with Ma in motion and offered Lil Buck a residency at Vail.
In addition to Lil Buck, Emery LeCrone, Richard Siegal, and Trey McIntyre (see cover story p. 26) have been commissioned new works. Christopher Wheeldon will choreograph a piece for his muse Wendy Whelan and modern dance star Fang-Yi Sheu. The Vail debut of the Mark Morris Dance Group, a mixed program that costs $20.11 per ticket, and a moderated, behind-the-scenes evening with Peter Martins and NYCB Moves are some of this year’s other offerings.
Woetzel also ingeniously pairs dancers from all over the world for his International Evenings of Dance. In previous years, he’s coupled Körbes with ABT’s David Hallberg and The Royal’s Eric Underwood. By all accounts, ABT’s Herman Cornejo and Boston Ballet’s Misa Kuranaga were heartbreaking in the Giselle Act II pas last year; this summer, they’ll share the stage with a slew of international artists from companies including NYCB, ABT, and Hamburg Ballet.
In his five-plus years as director, Woetzel has also focused on expanding what he calls the festival’s “peripheral events.” A natural extension of his year-round work with public schools around the country (he sits on the President’s Committee on the Arts and Humanities), he is proud of programs like “Celebrate the Beat,” a National Dance Institute offshoot that reaches more than a thousand Colorado kids, and the “Dancing in the Streets” community performance. For this event, Larry Keigwin taught choreography to more than a hundred professional and recreational dancers last year.
Woetzel expands the festival’s reach even further through technology. “We try to make the festival available to people who can’t be there.” From stunning photography by Erin Baiano and Kyle Froman, to rehearsal videos and blogs, VIDF’s strong online presence (there’s also an app for that) is purposeful. “I want people to be able to get up in New York and Tokyo and have some immediate sense of what happened the night before,” says Woetzel. “I want people to be constantly surprised by something more.”